Strong starts carry No. 3 Pitt past Siena 79-66

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—DeJuan Blair makes sure that what would be an off night for many teams never becomes one for Pittsburgh.

Blair took control inside with 21 points and 16 rebounds, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs scored 14 points each and No. 3 Pittsburgh came out strong in each half to stay undefeated with a 79-66 victory over Siena on Wednesday night.

The Panthers are 11-0 for the second straight season and the third time in the last four. They twice led by 11 points in the first half before starting the second half with a 16-3 run that stretched their lead to 53-32.

The Saints (5-4) had won three straight with most of the players who helped them upset Vanderbilt in last season’s NCAA tournament, but they didn’t get closer than five points after the opening few minutes. The 13-point margin of victory matched Pitt’s smallest this season.

The Saints never found a way to slow Blair, who is undersized for a top-tier center at 6-foot-7 but was the nation’s leading offensive rebounder coming in with a 5.9 average. As usual, he was strong at the offensive end with eight rebounds and missed only four of 14 shots.

“I just go after them,” said Blair, who averages 10 rebounds. “I’m just going to keep working, keep grabbing rebounds. I don’t think nothing’s going to stop me from doing that.”

As competitive as the Big East is with a record eight teams in the Top 25, Siena coach Fran McCaffery will be surprised if many players in that conference stop Blair, either.

“He’s one of the best post players I’ve seen in college basketball,” McCaffery said. “He hurts you in so many ways. Every time they miss a free throw, it seems like he gets the rebound. He’s got phenomenal hands. … He doesn’t fight the game, he lets it come to him and, at the end of the day, he’s going to have a double-double. I don’t care who he plays against.”

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Blair’s rebounding “is a gift. He’s got a knack.”

“You can coach guys all day long and they won’t rebound the way he rebounds,” Dixon said.

The Panthers, coming off a 91-56 rout of Maryland-Baltimore County, opened leads of 15-4 and 17-6 on baskets by Young before Siena got within 19-14. Young’s three-point play made it 37-23 with 1:19 left in the half before the Saints’ Josh Duell and Kyle Downey hit 3-pointers in the final minute of the half.

Pitt regained the momentum by scoring 11 consecutive points as part of the 16-3 run to start the second half, with Levance Fields getting the first two baskets before Young scored on a windmill dunk. Young finished the run with a three-point play after scoring on Pitt’s previous possession.

The Panthers were only 3-of-15 from 3-point range after making 14 beyond the arc against UMBC and shot 44.8 percent overall, yet the lack of outside shooting didn’t make any difference.

“They defend. At the start of both halves, we couldn’t make a basket,” McCaffery said. “We were running a good offense, weren’t turning the ball over, had the ball in the hands of our best players and we couldn’t score. That is a credit to how hard they play defense. They didn’t make any 3s to speak of, and they were able to overcome that and sustain a lead because of the way they play defense.”

Clarence Jackson and Edwin Ubiles had 12 points each and Downey added 11 for Siena, which shot 40 percent (26-of-65) and was outrebounded 47-36.

With Fields contributing 11 points, six assists and four rebounds, Pitt won its 37th consecutive home game against a non-conference opponent and its 86th in its last 88 at home outside the Big East.

Siena has never beaten a top 10 team, but one of the biggest victories in school history came at Pitt 20 years ago—an 80-79, last-second upset of a Panthers team that went 24-7 and finished the regular season ranked No. 8. That loss was the first of three early season defeats for the Panthers and, despite going to the NCAA tournament, they finished 17-13.

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